Iran’s Mobile and Internet Service Providers Offer Discount For Limiting Usage to State-Approved Websites
To discourage users in Iran from accessing websites that have not been sanctioned by the government, mobile and internet service companies are offering a discount to those who limit their online access to a set number of approved sites.
However, the discount, which has been available since 2016, will not be offered to users who access non-sanctioned websites via virtual private networks (VPN).
Iranians commonly use VPNS to protect their online identity from state cyber police and hackers, and to access websites that have been blocked by the government.
Iran’s second largest mobile network service provider, Irancell(MTN), admitted on May 1, 2017 that VPN users won’t qualify for the 50 percent discount on monthly internet costs offered to those who limit their usage to 200 sites on Iran’s state-controlled, domestic internet service, the National Internet Network (NIN).
Other mobile and web service companies have followed suit.
Offering discounts to discourage Iranians from accessing banned sites violates Net Neutrality, the principle that “a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally.”
The internet and social media apps are heavily restricted and censored in Iran, with hardliners in the government viewing any form of internet freedom as a threat to the Islamic Republic.
NIN, Iran’s multi-billion dollar, government-developed alternative to the world wide web, was launched in 2016 as part of ongoing efforts to more easily and efficiently censor online content.
It remains to be seen how commonly the 50 percent discount will be applied, because the list of 200 sanctioned sites does not include the popular Telegram messaging network, which reportedly has some 20-40 million subscribers in the country.
The list is also not regularly updated and currently does not include popular news and campaign sites belonging to moderate and reformist candidates running in Iran’s presidential and local council elections on May 19.